Should Expert Networks Worry About LinkedIn?


New York – A new LinkedIn capability which aggregates contact information at the company level shows how much expert networks rely on the popular business-oriented social network. We used the new ‘Companies’ feature in LinkedIn to look at the expert networks themselves, and found interesting insights, including what appears to be the ability to see some of the searches expert networks are conducting.

LinkedIn beta-released a company profile capability in March, and made it public last week. The 30-million member social network combines information from its own network with data on public and private companies from Capital IQ, a subsidiary of Standard & Poor’s. Some of the information is straightforward such as top locations, common job titles, top schools the firm recruits from, the median age of its employees, and the gender composition of its employees.

There is also contextual information, which will vary based on the size of your own LinkedIn network. It shows employees in the company that have 500+ contacts, recent hires, recent promotions and job changes, and employees with the most popular profiles (most frequently viewed, in the news, or active on the LinkedIn network). For example, Mark Gerson is shown as being promoted to Executive Chairman from CEO four months ago. This is not a news event, since Alexander Saint-Amand has been CEO since 2006. It merely shows that it took a while for Mark to update his LinkedIn profile.

The most interesting feature shows other companies that employees are connected to. The information displays other companies that have the most connections to employees, and this information seems to be updated regularly. A week ago the LinkedIn profiles for Gerson Lehrman Group, Coleman Research, and Vista Research all showed Ingram Micro Distribution GmbH, a German subsidiary of Ingram Micro, as one of the companies they were most connected to. At the moment, Gerson’s profile is showing connections to two different firms: Science Care, which facilitates whole body donation programs for medical research and training, and AlmapBBDO, a Brazilian subsidiary of BBDO.

The obscurity and specialization of these companies connected to the expert networks suggests that they are being used in the networks’ search processes. It is no secret that the expert networks are heavy users of LinkedIn as a tool to recruit experts. It appears that the new ‘Companies’ feature is inadvertently displaying information that the expert networks and their clients would rather not see public.

Another interesting facet of the related company information is the degree that the expert networks are interconnected on LinkedIn. Two of the companies that Gerson employees are most connected with are Coleman Research and Vista Research. The same is true of Coleman: GLG and Vista are top connections. Ditto Vista. Why would this be? Most likely it is so that researchers can see what connections other expert networks are adding. In LinkedIn, you are notified of new connections added by people you are linked with.

We estimate that there is a 30% overlap between the expert networks, with approximately one in three experts being carried on multiple networks. Through LinkedIn we can see one reason for this phenomenon, as each expert network seems to be tracking the activity of the others.

The company profile feature illustrates how LinkedIn is a two-edged sword for the expert networks. On the one hand, the companies profiles are great recruiting tools, showing key connections within a company that are available in your network. In the context of recruiting, seeing related companies that are connected to the company is very useful in identifying competitors and other sources of related information. However, the company feature also reveals how interrelated the expert networks are, and it may also be showing searches that the expert networks and their clients would prefer to keep confidential.

In the broader context, LinkedIn is a potential threat to the expert networks. LinkedIn received a $23 million capital infusion in October and added strategic partners, including Goldman Sachs, SAP and McGraw-Hill (see related story).  We have long viewed LinkedIn as a potential competitor.  Even if LinkedIn chooses not to compete directly, it will be raising the costs of the expert networks as it seeks to better monetize the features the expert networks are using so aggressively at the moment.

To see an example of the new LinkedIn capability, the profile for Gerson, click here.


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1 Comment

  1. The company feature on LinkedIn is certainly interesting and useful, especially in the context of expert networks. However I think you may be reading a bit too much into the company connection data.

    First, companies are highly likely to be connected to their competitors because employees are likely to know their counterparts at competitors via conferences, recruiting, etc and there is also a high likelihood of employees moving from one player to another within an industry. For example, Goldman employees are most connected with Barclays, Credit Suisse, Lehman and Morgan Stanley because they are competitive, in the same industry, and there is a high level of employee base shift from Goldman to and from these four. It is unlikely that Goldman employees are connected to employees at these companies because they are monitoring each other’s LinkedIn related activity.

    Second, it is unlikely that the LI connection measurement algorithm used in the company profile pages incorporates when the connection was made (i.e. velocity). This means that there is no measure of how recent those connections were made in that data (unlike the “recent connections” portion of an individual’s LI profile) so it is unlikely that AlmapBBDO or Science Care are “hot” for GLG right now. It is more likely that over time GLG employees have migrated to or from these companies or that over time many employees at these companies have joined the GLG network and become connected via LinkedIn with GLG employees in the process.

    You can get juicier data from the “recent connections” field on an individual’s profile to whom you are connected who has chosen to reveal this information. This data is not shown on the company pages but in some cases can be interesting (e.g. a business development player’s recent connections can be revealing, as could an expert network recruiter’s). That said there is still a lot of “noise” in this data so it’s probably not terribly useful.

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